Charlie Lyon Charlie Lyon

Clean up and freshen up: that’s the message design agencies are giving restaurants looking to reposition or rebrand in 2012. Whether it’s falafel outlets moving their fryers out of the service area and back into the kitchens, or high-end steakhouses replacing patterned upholstery with chic, clean creams, now’s the time to do away with clutter and mess.

But why should this trend for appearance overhaul stop at design? As kitchen staff become involved in an ever-increasing front-of-house role, they must fit in with the brand of the restaurant, and indeed with the times. Open kitchens, chef’s tables, live cooking stations and masterclasses break down the boundaries between chef and diner, and as prominent figures in the restaurant, they need to look the part too.

Visiting two luxury branded restaurants in the same week this month, in a similar Dubai location, I was taken aback by the different impressions the head chefs had on me.

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One clean-shaven 30-something with clipped hair and a well-spoken manner didn’t have to say: “I’m organised, I pay great attention to detail – your food will taste marvellous and arrive on time”.

The unshaven other, with hair in his eyes, a skewed hat and a shady stoop said: “You might as well settle in, it’s going to be a while”. I didn’t want to favour one place over the other, and as food went, they were both excellent, but for lasting impressions, I know which establishment I’ll remember.

I’m not saying we need a line of Clooneys in the kitchen – although I’m sure somewhere in the world a concept like this is under discussion – and no one wants to see chefs cooking up a storm in Armani slacks, but when it comes to a restaurant’s whole package, clean and fresh appearances do matter very much.